Productivity software

Google Docs Secrets: 21 Power Tips for the Productivity Suite

If you haven't looked at Google Docs recently, now's a good time to check in with it. The office suite, which works entirely within a browser window, has slowly but steadily continued to evolve into a highly usable set of free tools.

The lineup has come a long way since Google bought the collaborative Writely word processor in 2006. Unlike desktop software releases such as Microsoft Office, which get big updates every few years, Google Docs is a continually changing work in progress. Google introduces new features on a rolling basis, and add-ons continue to emerge both from the Google Labs and--for those who use Google Apps for Business--from the Google Apps Marketplace.

We've taken an extended look under the hood of Google Docs and uncovered 21 tips for getting more done by exploring some of the less obvious features in its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software--with a few hints for Gmail, too. Our coverage ranges from editing photos in place in a text document to working with multiple currencies in a spreadsheet. We'll also share cool ways to use the revamped homepage document organizer and to maximize your editing space.

Before you get started, though, note that Google Docs works best with either Google's own Chrome browser or Mozilla's Firefox. Functionality tends to be slightly limited in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

1. Search Docs and Gmail Together

You can work with more than one currency in a spreadsheet by clicking the More Formats button on the toolbar.
Wouldn't it be great to be able to search both Gmail and your list of Google documents at the same time? Luckily, the Gmail Labs have worked out a way to do this. To get to the Labs from Gmail, click Settings in the top right portion of the screen, and then click the Labs link.

Scroll down until you get to the Apps Search entry; there, click Enable, and then click the Save Changes button at the top or bottom of the list. Henceforth, any search that you request within Gmail will also search your documents, and the doc results will appear beneath the Gmail results.

2. Work With More Than One Currency in a Spreadsheet

To set the base currency format for a spreadsheet, click File and then Spreadsheet Settings. Alter the Locale setting to the relevant country (United States for the dollar, for example).

Regardless of the Locale setting you choose, you can mark cells or ranges of cells to be formatted in a different currency. To do so, highlight those cells and click the More Formats button on the toolbar (It's the button labeled '123'.). Then scroll down to the More Currencies pop-up menu and make your selection.

3. Create Drawings Within Presentations

When creating a presentation, you needn't switch to the separate drawing component to make a sketch. Instead, click Insert and then Drawing. These commands will open the drawing interface in a floating window. When you're finished, click Save and then Close to insert the drawing into the presentation, where you can reposition and resize it.

4. Fix Pictures in Position

You can fix images into position within documents, forcing text to flow around them.
By default, the Google Docs word processor inserts pictures in such a way that they move with the text; this arrangement is known as Inline positioning. To fix the picture to the page so that it remains stationary while text flows around it--and so that the only way to move it is by clicking and dragging it--first select the image and then, at the bottom, click Fixed.

5. Quickly Back Up All of Your Documents Offline

If you'd like to save all of the documents that live on Google's servers to your hard drive, start by hovering the mouse over any file in the Google Docs homepage file listing. Next, choose Actions and select Download in the menu that appears.

In the resulting dialog box, click the All Items tab. You'll be see many items of each file type that you can download; if you're happy, click the Download button. The files will be downloaded together in a .zip file.

6. Gather Spreadsheet Data Using Forms

Don't want to leave your work only in the cloud? You can back up your Google Docs files locally.
Don't want to leave your work only in the cloud? You can back up your Google Docs files locally.
Sometimes you need to gather data from coworkers, customers, or other individuals. Forms provide a quick way to satisfy this need, offering simple multiple-question interfaces that you can e-mail to people or include on Web pages.

To get started, open a new spreadsheet and select Form; then choose Create a Form. In the window that appears, type your first question into the Question Title field. You can provide explanatory text in the Help Text field if you wish, if you do, that text will appear above the question on the form. In the Question Type dropdown field, select the type of answer you're looking for--multiple choice, plain text, or whatever the case may be. If you're requesting numerical data, select Text.

To enter another question, hover your mouse over Sample Question 2 and click the pencil icon. Then repeat the steps described above. To add more questions, click the Add Item button at the top left of the window.

Once your questions are complete, e-mail the form to its intended recipients by clicking the Email This Form button. Alternatively, open the More Actions dropdown list and select Embed to obtain HTML code that you can insert into a Web page.

Any data that people enter on your form will appear at the top of the spreadsheet. You can manage or delete forms by using the Form menu within the spreadsheet.

Next page: Insert links, find documents, and correct typos faster

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